Juquila - Oaxacan food a big disappointment
After reading a write up in the LA Times food section of a little over a year ago, after reading several chowhound posts, and upon recommendations from friends, I have wanted for some time to try Oaxacan food.
Finally the other night, I went to Juquila on Santa Monica in West L.A. with my dad and a friend. I was so disappointed by the experience that I am wondering if others have had similar ones or maybe I just ordered the wrong thing?
I ordered enfrijoladas - tortillas that were steeped in what the menu described as a mole sauce and then piled with Oaxacan string cheese. But the sauce did not taste like any mole I have ever had. It was bland, no bite or complexity to it and the string cheese was salty and cloying. I understand it may be an acquired taste but the over all impact of the dish was unimpressive. Even the colors were unappetizing.
My friend ordered a clayuda with string cheese. Even worse than what I ordered. It was barely edible - a stale corn tortilla, more bland sauce, a pile of shredded cabbage, topped with enough salty string cheese to sink a submarine, some olive greenish guacamole, and some anemic looking tomato slices.
My dad on the other hand, dived into his chicken and red mole with gusto. I asked him if I could taste his sauce and I did - it was good.
Did I just order the wrong thing? Is Juquila not the restaurant to go to? Are the meat dishes the tasty dishes? I would be curious to hear from others on this before I ventured into a Oaxacan restaurant again. Thanks!
The funny thing about it is that they spell tlayudas phonetically the way the Indians in Oaxaca pronounce it. When I was in college down there, I used to go for cheap eats 3 blocks from my house. Being that it's found on this board, doesn't surprise me at all that it's gone down hill. Those type restaurants aren't for foodies. They are cheap workingman's eateries....
never had the string cheese there, but agree on the mole -- not bad, but certainly lacks complexity. In fact, even Gueleguetza's is missing that deep amlost burnt component of really good authetic mole. Best bet is to try all the ones on the westside-- Monte Alban, El Saxon, Gueleguetza -- and find the one that suits your taste. One note, next to Monte Alban (which is several blocks east of Juquila on the same side of the street in a minimall) is a Oaxacan market that cells avocado leaves and authentic chile pasilla Oaxacan among other regional delicacies.
Their clayudas are awful. Try Sazon de Oaxequena on Washington for much better clayudas.
Their string cheese is OK - though all Oaxacan string cheese is pretty salty and, er, pungent. Guelaguetza, K-town branch, stocks much better string cheese.
The menu is wrong, too, I think. Enfijoladas (at least the ones I've had at any other place, though I've never had them at Juquila), are tortillas in a bean sauce. Definitely not mole. Should be a rather mellow bean sauce. Probably my least favorite standard Oaxacan dish.
Juquila frustrates me, as it has its on days and its off days, which annoys me much more these months than it has in the past. I've posted about this before. For that reason I've stopped sending people from far away to it, and kept it much more of a local "you win some you lose some" sort of deal. In fact, all Oaxacan places I know of are very variable, especially in the mole department. It might just be that the sort of long-complicated-sauce just suffers made in mass, for a restaurant - it's has to be made in batches, and sometimes it's fresh, and sometimes it's not, and there's no way of preparing every batch to order. But, good things are:
Chicken with black or red mole (varies slightly, depending on the time of day). And enchiladas in red sauce are popular with a friend.
Chilaquiles are a risk. Sometimes, awesome. Sometimes, drab, greasy, and awful. Depends on the cook.
But mostly, it's just the stuff off the specials menu that's really fine. The chilaquiles in green salsa, when available, are incredible, scrambled eggs with cactus is very tasty. And I once had a fried thing stuffed with tomatoes, cheese, and spicy sauce that was deadly fine.
(Oh - El Sazon Oaxaquena's clayudas are the Oaxacan dish that I eat regularly that has never had an off night. But, outside of that, it's the weakest of the Oaxacan places I visit regularly.)
But I sympathize. I've had stuff at Juquila that's tasted and felt like pig snot. I've had chilaquiles there that felt like they'd been cooked two hours ago. And other times: heaven.
Sometimes, it makes me hate restaurants.